Civilization and Nature have been at odds since humanoids first built their huts. Fey despise deforestation, but humans need it to survive. Humans fear the beasts of the night, but the beasts are simply doing what comes to them naturally. Both sides need a champion, and the Hunter Ranger from the Player’s Handbook is the only one that can be both. As a Hunter, you learn specialized techniques to deal with threats whenever they appear. You’re a devastating and diverse warrior that all creatures respect. But, will an adventuring party respect you just as much? Our Hunter 5e Guide will give you some ideas!
Take Them Down: Hunter 5E
The Hunter is the archetypal Ranger subclass. It’s basic, gives a bunch of options, and has a good spread between defensive and offensive bonuses. You can construct the Hunter as a melee threat or a ranged bombardier and be satisfied.
Right when you get the archetype, you can choose one of these bonuses.
Colossus Slayer. Your tenacity can wear down the most potent foes. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, the creature takes an extra 1d8 damage if it’s below its hit point maximum. You can deal this extra damage only once per turn.
The most basic approach. As long as the creature took 1 point of damage, you get to hit them for 4.5 average damage per turn. That’s pretty solid, especially early on. Do note that this says once per turn, meaning opportunity attacks get this benefit, even if you landed an attack on your turn.
Once you get Extra Attack, this feature gets a bit better, since you get to give yourself the benefit. Just make sure your attack rolls are high enough so you can hit this consistently!
Giant Killer. When a Large or larger creature within 5 feet of you hits or misses you with an attack, you can use your reaction to attack that creature immediately after its attack, provided that you can see the creature.
Probably the worst option. Large creatures aren’t rare in 5E, but this becomes useless against most humanoids or beasts. In addition, this spends your reaction to make an additional attack, which is what opportunity attack is for. There are better ways to get access to a decent reaction to deal extra damage.
However, if you know you’ll constantly fight Large creatures, this can put in a lot of work. This is melee-only, since they need to target you, and they need to be within 5 feet. You can become the party’s defender relatively easily… though intelligent large creatures like Dragons might catch on to your plans.
Horde Breaker. Once on each of your turns when you make a weapon attack, you can make another attack with the same weapon against a different creature that is within 5 feet of the original target and within range of your weapon.
The other pretty good option. This lets you do decent crowd control, and get 3 attacks per round by level 5. Unfortunately, you have to split your damage between two targets, meaning your initial target – presumably the real threat of the encounter – stays alive longer than with Colossus Slayer. However, this ability lets your Wizard or Blaster caster focus more on taking out the threat, since you can handle low-level skeletons and stuff with some basic swings.
This one favors the bow a tiny bit more. You need to be adjacent to both targets, or willing to move a lot, in order to get Horde Breaker on a greatsword. With a bow or crossbow, you can make this work much easier if enemies are fighting in a line with each other, or in specific formations.
Horde Breaker has the tiny problem that sometimes, encounters just don’t stick together. Enemies can scatter and move too easily, even moving through opportunity attack spaces to not be within 5 feet. Still, not bad at all.
By default, we suggest you take Colossus Slayer. That’s consistent damage that you’ll get basically in all situations. If you’re doing a ranged build, Horde Breaker is fine, and will sometimes give you ridiculous amounts of free damage.
At level 7, you get your choice between 3 different defensive options… None of which are super exciting.
Escape the Horde. Opportunity attacks against you are made with disadvantage.
Interesting, but not incredibly so. This lets you more easily worm your way out of spaces that would otherwise cause your demise. However, there are quite a few problems.
One, you should just take the Zephyr Strike spell. It allows you to move without provoking attacks of opportunity, and gives you advantage on an attack. That’s more consistently good against opportunity attacks, and has aggressive applications. You can spend 1st level spell slots by now on stuff like that.
Two, Rangers have health. Getting out of range of an opportunity attack isn’t exactly a priority. Sure, this can save your skin, but you can usually tank enough damage that Escape the Horde just isn’t worth it.
Three… just disengage. If you’re in a situation where opportunity attacks mean life or death, just focus on escaping. Don’t worry about your DM rolling two 20s on their disadvantage roll; Guarantee that you’ll live instead.
Multiattack Defense. When a creature hits you with an attack, you gain a +4 bonus to AC against all subsequent attacks made by that creature for the rest of the turn.
This is pretty good for your melee builds. Large creatures tend to have multiattacks with three or more weapons. And after level 5, you should expect two attacks in a round for any creature that isn’t a dedicated spellcaster. This gives you a 20% chance to avoid any of the attacks of a creature that might be threatening.
And, you have the interesting effect where you can stop yourself from getting crushed by multiple ray spells. Sure, that’s basically just Scorching Ray, but it will lower damage a bit in the midgame.
This will consistently save you from any creatures that take multiple attacks. Just… make sure you’re a melee build. Otherwise you’re gonna be defending yourself against specifically bow barrages. Maybe good for war campaigns?
Steel Will. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Frighten effects are dangerous. They keep you from approaching enemies, give you disadvantage on attacks, and sometimes force you to flee. However, it’s extremely rare that spells that force you to save against Frighten also kill you.
The main caveat is the Phantasmal Killer spell, which deals damage to you as long as you’re frightened. In that situation, this might be useful. But, how many Phantasmal Killing casters are you going to run into? Probably not many.
Multiattack Defense is probably the best, melee or ranged. If you’re ranged, you can consider Steel Will, since you’re less likely to be attacked if you’re 90 feet away from the fight. Escape the Horde doesn’t do enough to make taking opportunity attacks enticing; you’re better off negating them entirely.
At level 11, you actually only get two choices, a theme that continues through the rest of the archetype. This one gives you area of effect abilities, an option rarely given to weapon-wielding martials. This choice is literally given to you based on the weapon you typically use.
Volley. You can use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 10 feet of a point you can see within your weapon’s range. You must have ammunition for each target, as normal, and you make a separate attack roll for each target.
This is a fairly potent blast; it’s half the range of a fireball. That’s pretty big! You can hit up to 16 creatures with that, maybe more if your DM bunches them up weirdly. Or if you position it right. Or if the creatures are flying. That’ll be expensive for your ammunition, but damn if that isn’t a lot of attacks!
With this, you can fling small Fireballs all day long. If you were doing Hand Crossbows with Crossbow Mastery, this won’t feel amazing. But, if the situation calls for it and you see a massive pile of creatures, then this is a pretty obvious action to make.
Whirlwind Attack. You can use your action to make a melee attack against any number of creatures within 5 feet of you, with a separate attack roll for each target.
And then you have the obvious choice for melee. Horde Breaker is getting jealous!
This will commonly let you make 4-5 attacks in encounters with a ton of enemies, but will otherwise maybe not be the best option. If you’re using the Two-Weapon Fighting style, this needs to target 4 creatures (5 with Horde Breaker) to have more attacks. Not impossible, if you’re getting surrounded, but a little improbable. This is within 5 feet of you, not within weapon range, so you can’t become a 10 foot Area of Effect… unlike your Archer friend.
If you decided to go with the dueling style, this becomes better. Dueling style makes 2 to 3 weapon attacks in a round and hits harder, so this spin-to-win becomes more efficient for you. Even if you’re using Two-Weapon Fighting, this at least doesn’t spend your Bonus Action.
Not much else to say. Make sure these actions are more efficient than Extra Attack, and you’ll see that the ability to do bursts of damage to multiple enemies is actually fantastic.
Superior Hunter’s Defense
Finally, you gain another group of defensive options at level 15. Unlike Hunter’s Defense, these are all reasonable… But there’s an obvious option once again.
Evasion. You can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as a red dragon’s fiery breath or a lightning bolt spell. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.
Evasion is a nice ability. As a Ranger, you get Dexterity saving throw proficiency by default. Now, when you make your +11 or so save against a Fireball, you actually negate it, instead of getting a little singed. This will save you against a decent chunk of damage, especially from monsters’ DC-based attacks. It’ll also help against large traps, which by level 15 basically call the apocalypse down on you because you didn’t see the tripwire.
Reflex saves are focused on area of effect, so you can now stand near your party quite comfortably. No longer must you worry about the Liches’ fireball, because your Dexterity save will most likely beat it. And even if you fail, you still basically “succeed”.
This is a legitimately good option, and you should consider it if you’re ranged.
Stand Against the Tide. When a hostile creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to force that creature to repeat the same attack against another creature (other than itself) of your choice.
This is a really neat ability for the melee horde breaker build. You force creatures to hit each other; that can sometimes be a better reaction than hitting them yourself! However, there’s a problem.
One, you need to be in melee. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re battling a Wizard and he shoots a disintegration into your chest, you can’t rebound it to someone else. That’s a little sad.
The real problem with that is you need to be fighting two creatures, presumably in melee, and this one needs to miss. This combos well with Multiattack defense, but it’s far too situational to be handy. Do you know what’s much less situational?
Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you.
Perfect. This combos so well with Multiattack defense; you tank one hit, take half damage, and then have a 20% higher chance to ignore the rest of the attacks. The majority of the damage you take in the late game come from attack rolls, so this is a fantastic reaction for you to have.
Take Uncanny Dodge if you’re melee, and probably if you’re ranged. Evasion is nice, but just barely not worth it. Uncanny Dodge is just that good.
As a side note, “Superior Hunter’s Defense” includes two things that are natively available to rogues. At significantly lower levels. Huh. Poor Ranger.
Best Races for Hunter Rangers
Hunters really like Dexterity; even in melee, you’re probably better with Finesse weapons, since you’re otherwise just in Medium armor and need to get 14 Dexterity anyways. Constitution is essential if you’re wading into melee, and should probably be prioritized if you’re ranged. Wisdom lets you use DC-based Ranger spells more reliably.
Those of you who are not interested in being a bestial race may want to look away, because the Bugbear are furry monstrosities. These Volo’s Guide creatures have a +2 to Strength, +1 to Dexterity; if you want to do a Strength Ranger, these might be the best racial pick. You gain Stealth for free and Darkvision, making you a prime sneaky candidate. Surprise Attack comes in handy surprisingly often, and Long-Limbed can give you the ability to strike behind the enemy frontline with your Greatsword. If you want to absolutely decimate enemies with a huge weapon as a Ranger, few can do it as well as a Bugbear.
Alternatively, if you want to be tanky, Lizardfolk are superior. Also from the Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Lizardfolk gain +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom; not perfect, but it fills out your side-stats. You gain a bunch of bonus skills, the Hungry Jaws bonus action, and a few utility abilities. Perhaps most importantly is Natural Armor, which lets you become tankier than manufactured armor with 20 Dexterity. These creatures are late-game powerhouses with a shocking amount of dungeoneering usefulness.
These were-people from Eberron: Rising from the Last War are designed for archery. +2 Dexterity is nice (though +1 Charisma is certainly not). You get Darkvision by default, allowing you to more easily sneak, and you gain Acrobatics for free. Since you’re a Shifter, you can transform as a bonus action to gain temporary hitpoints and the ability to move 10 feet as a reaction when someone ends their turn within 5 feet of you. Perfect for getting out of range of creatures trying to beat you up. However, you’ll have to make sure to shift before the fight begins, to avoid wasting bonus actions in combat!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Hunter 5E
The Hunter is perfectly fine; a serviceable option that won’t let you down. Unfortunately, with the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, it feels like Wizards realized that the Player’s Handbook subclasses weren’t good enough to help the Ranger. The Xanathar’s Guide archetypes are just that much stronger. If you want to play a versatile subclass that changes dynamically as you level up, the Hunter is here for you. If you’re looking for a specific playstyle check out the three subclasses offered through the newer guide.
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